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Victims' father says Chapel Hill triple homicide was a 'hate crime'

News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C. logoNews & Observer, Raleigh, N.C. 2/11/2015 Jane Stancill and Jay Price

In this Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015 photo, Chapel Hill police officers investigate the scene of three murders near Summerwalk Circle in Chapel Hill, N.C. A man, his wife and her sister, all college students, were shot to death at a quiet condominium complex near the University of North Carolina, but police had not yet given a motive or released details about the suspect. Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, was charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the Tuesday shooting, Chapel Hill police told local news outlets. © AP Photo/The News & Observer, Al Drago In this Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015 photo, Chapel Hill police officers investigate the scene of three murders near Summerwalk Circle in Chapel Hill, N.C. A man, his wife and her sister, all college students, were shot to death at a quiet condominium complex near the University of North Carolina, but police had not yet given a motive or released details about the suspect. Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, was charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the Tuesday shooting, Chapel Hill police told local news outlets.      CHAPEL HILL - The father of two of three students shot to death in Chapel Hill on Tuesday says the shooting was a "hate crime" based on the Muslim faith of the victims.

Chapel Hill police said Wednesday morning that a dispute about parking in the neighborhood of rented condominiums near Meadowmont may have led Craig Stephen Hicks to shoot his neighbors, Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, and his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and Abu-Salha's sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, of Raleigh.

But the women's father, Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, who has a psychiatry practice in Clayton, said regardless of the precise trigger Tuesday night, Hicks' underlying animosity toward Barakat and Abu-Salha was based on their religion and culture. Abu-Salha said police told him Hicks shot the three inside their apartment.

"It was execution style, a bullet in every head," Abu-Salha said Wednesday morning. "This was not a dispute over a parking space; this was a hate crime. This man had picked on my daughter and her husband a couple of times before, and he talked with them with his gun in his belt. And they were uncomfortable with him, but they did not know he would go this far."

Abu-Salha said his daughter who lived next door to Hicks wore a Muslim head scarf and told her family a week ago that she had "a hateful neighbor."

"Honest to God, she said, 'He hates us for what we are and how we look,'" he said.

Police charged Hicks with three counts of first-degree murder.

"Our preliminary investigation indicates that the crime was motivated by an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking," said police spokesman Lt. Joshua Mecimore. "Hicks is cooperating with investigators."

Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, enters the courtroom for his first appearance Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015 at the Durham County Detention Center in Durham, N.C. He is accused of shooting his Finley Forest neighbors, Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, and his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and Abu-Salhav's sister, Razan Abu-Salha, 19, of Raleigh. Hicks is being held in the Durham County jail with no bond. © Chuck Liddy/News & Observer/TNS Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, enters the courtroom for his first appearance Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015 at the Durham County Detention Center in Durham, N.C. He is accused of shooting his Finley Forest neighbors, Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, and his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and Abu-Salhav's sister, Razan Abu-Salha, 19, of Raleigh. Hicks is being held in the Durham County jail with no bond.

Hicks appeared in Durham County District Court on Wednesday morning and asked for a public defender.

Chief District Court Judge Marcia Morey told Hicks there would be a probable cause hearing on the charges on March 4 and sent him back to the county jail to be held without bail.

On his Facebook page, Hicks described himself as an atheist and appeared to address anyone who held a religious belief.

"I give your religion as much respect as your religion gives me," he wrote. "There's nothing complicated about it, and I have every right to insult a religion that goes out of its way to insult, to judge, and to condemn me as an inadequate human being - which your religion does with self-righteous gusto."

It's not clear if Hicks was referring to a particular religion or all religions. He continued:

"When it comes to insults, your religion started this, not me," he wrote. "If your religion kept its big mouth shut, so would I. But given that it doesn't, and given the enormous harm that your religion has done in this world, I'd say that I have not only a right, but a duty, to insult it, as does every rational, thinking person on this planet."

Abu-Salha said that Muslims and non-Muslims alike needed to look past stereotypes.

"This is a result of hate and stereotypes," he said "It's a big problem. Hate and stereotypes are products of the media and the press pushing people in all directions and focussing on the bad. People should just give up hate and stereotypes and get to know you before they take a stand against you, and what you practice and what you believe in."

(From left) Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha, 19, of Raleigh. © Facebook (From left) Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha, 19, of Raleigh.

Victims graduated high school in Raleigh

Barakat was a doctoral student in UNC-Chapel Hill's School of Dentistry. The sisters were N.C. State University students.

Wake County Public School System officials confirmed that Razan and Yusor Abu-Shala graduated from Athens Drive High School, Yusor in 2011 and Razan in 2013. Deah Barakat graduated from Broughton High School in 2009.

Chapel Hill police found all three victims dead at the scene, after responding to a report of gunshots on Summerwalk Circle at 5:11 p.m. Tuesday.

The neighborhood, adjacent to the Friday Center, is mostly rental apartments and modest condominiums. Police worked early into the morning trying to piece together what happened.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations on Wednesday called on law enforcement to address speculation about a possible bias for the shootings. CAIR is a Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization.

The victims' bodies were sent to the State Medical Examiner's Office in Raleigh, friends posted. Funeral arrangements are pending.

As news of Tuesday's killings spread through the international Muslim community, many turned to Facebook and Twitter to share their grief. A Facebook community - Our Three Winners ( nando.com/xl) - was started early Wednesday to share news and memories of the students.

"Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha have returned to their Lord," the community's creators state. "They have set an example in life and in death."

Twitter posts speculated the slayings might be a hate crime.

"Three Muslims murdered tonight in Chapel Hill, NC by a man because they were Muslim. What a sad night in America," one person tweeted.

Barakat and Abu-Salha were married Dec. 27. Abu-Salha's Facebook photo - posted two days ago - shows her smiling as her father twirls her around the wedding dance floor.

She was scheduled to graduate in December with a degree in biological sciences from NCSU, according to a university release, and she graduated in 2011 from Athens Drive High School in Raleigh. Her sister Razan Abu-Salha graduated from Athens Drive in 2013 and was studying architecture and environmental design at NCSU.

Barakat, a Syrian-American, majored in business administration and management at NCSU before enrolling at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2013 to pursue his doctorate in dental surgery.

Both he and Abu-Salha advocated for global dental health, providing care and supplies to people in the United States and the Middle East. On Jan. 29, Barakat posted a Facebook photo of a Durham project that gave dental supplies and food to more than 75 homeless people this year.

Barakat was scheduled to travel with 10 other dentists this summer to Reyhanli, Turkey. There, they planned to treat Syrian refugee students for urgent dental needs, pass out toothbrushes and toothpaste, and support Turkish dentists and clinics.

Hours after the shootings, more than $8,200 had been donated to the online campaign for "Project: Refuge Smiles," ( nando.com/xk) which Barakat was spearheading. The UNC-Chapel Hill School of Dentistry and the Syrian-American Medical Society are helping to organize the trip.

At last count Wednesday morning, the campaign had surpassed its $20,000 goal by $892 and with 170 days to spare.

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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